“Take a picture, it will last longer.” A true expression, but in reality a picture does not preserve the memory if you cannot find it. When you’re feeling nostalgic or need a photo for a family reunion wouldn’t it be nice to easily locate it rather than having to comb through stuffed drawers, boxes, or your computer hard drive? A good photo organization system allows you to enjoy your memories as well as easily share them with others.

Printed Photos – Remember when your photos came in a large envelope with those ubiquitous brown negative strips attached. Digital cameras have helped shed some of that clutter, but what about the old photos you already have?

  • Purchase a large supply of archival safe photo boxes available at your local drug store, camera store, or online.
  • Clearly label your boxes in 3-5 year increments (depending on how many photos you have to sort). One box should be able to hold that many photos, especially if you quickly toss the ones that are junk (bad lighting, a thumb covering the lens, unrecognizable, etc.). For now you can use sticky notes for labels since you might not be sure how many boxes you will need for a particular time frame and may need to adjust accordingly. Spread the boxes out on a large table in chronological order.
  • Go through your photos, and without spending a lot of time reminiscing, quickly place them in the corresponding year. If you are unsure of where something goes, put the photo to the side and come back to it later for comparison to other photos, then file accordingly. Get rid of the envelopes and negatives, their just excess clutter. In the age of modern technology, if you need to reprint a picture, your better off using a quality scanner than reprinting from the negative.
  • Depending on how many photos you have, after a few hours your photos have now gone through a preliminary sort. For some people that’s enough organization. If you want to fine tune your boxes with dividers by month or event (Napa trip, Allie’s birthday party, Joe’s 40th, etc.) it may take some extra time, but the more detailed your organization system the easier it is to find things.
  • Create permanent labels for your boxes with the exact contents and store your boxes where they can be accessed and appreciated.
  • If organizing your photos sounds like more work than it’s worth, turn the project into a fun family activity. Just be sure to stay focused on the task at hand amongst the giggles and “awe’s” that ensue from everyone viewing the photos.

To Convert or Not Convert – Printed photos are fun to look at, but storing all those boxes can take up space and if your photos are not organized they’re just another source of clutter. Consider converting your printed photos to digital form. ScanCafe or RitzPics offer bulk scanning service at reasonable prices.

Digital Photos – Digital photos create less clutter in the physical world, but if you never organize them they just become bits and bytes that take up space on your computer hard drive.

  • First get rid of the junk.  Do a quick scan of all your photos individually and delete those with bad lighting, those that your toddler took when he confiscated your camera, or one’s that invoke, “Who is that,” or “YIKES, that is not seeing the light of day!”
  • Create folders by month/year or event.  If you have to search one large folder to find a particular photo it can be very time consuming. By breaking down your photos chronologically or by event, you’ll have less to sift through to find what you need. Drag your photos individually (or better yet in blocks) to the appropriate folders.
  • Use photo organizing software like iPhoto, Adobe Photoshop Elements, or Picasa. These powerful tools help you to organize, edit, search and print your digital photo collection. You can remove red-eye, crop a photo, as well as tag it for easy searchability.
  • Don’t forget to print your photos.  With the large storage capacity of computers, it’s very easy to store more photos than you can enjoy in a lifetime.  Once you’ve organized your photos, be sure to print or share your favorites so they are appreciated.  Better yet display them in a digital photo frame or on Apple TV which cycles through a myriad of photos for everyone to see.
  • Back up your digital photos onto a separate hard drive or cloud based storage system to ensure your precious memories are never lost.

Not Everyone’s a Scrapbooker – Scrapbooks are a fun and festive way to view the memories of your life. However, the guilt you feel to create a scrapbook is probably self or socially imposed. It’s okay to simply flip through your photos in an organized photo box or place them in traditional photo albums without all the embellishments of scrapbooking.  If creating a scrapbook is preventing you from doing anything with your photos, it’s time to do a reality check, get over the guilt, and create an easy to use system to organize and share your photos (see above tips).

Outsource the Process – If any of the above suggestions seem overwhelming and you can afford to outsource your photo organization there are people who will do it for you. They’ll sort through your photos, organize them, and even create beautiful photo books for you and your family to enjoy.  I can recommend a few (post a comment on MTFY Facebook Page) or you can inquire at your local scrapbooking store or do a search on Google or Craigslist.

Photos are meant to preserve memories. Get them organized so you can bask in the ease and fun of reminiscing and sharing with others.